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Ena Baga

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Billed as Queen of the Keyboard, Ena Baga was one of Britain’s most famous cinema organists. She specialised in creating music for silent films and for many years was something of a fixture at the National Film Theatre in London.

Her signature tune was Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and, dressed in shimmering evening gowns and wearing a string of pearls, she toured all the big cinema circuits in Britain during the twenties and thirties. She also performed on cine-variety bills accompanying stars such as Jimmy Edwards, Vic Oliver and Adelaide Hall.

Born in London on January 15, 1906, Ena Rosina Baga was one of four musically talented daughters of Constantine and Charlotte Baga, who themselves provided music for early cinemas and music halls. One of her sisters, Florence de Jong, also went on to have a successful career as a cinema organist.

Baga began her career as a church organist at the age of 12. While still in her teens she became resident organist at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff on Sea, and then graduated to the Tivoli on the Strand, holding this top West End post in a musical world that was then largely dominated by men.

During the twenties and thirties she played in cinemas all over Britain and her greatest love was playing for silent films. She would read the synopsis of the film, become immersed in the plot and then play accordingly.

In 1933 she became resident mistress of the Compton organ at the Gaumont Cinema, Camden Town where she played for Cine-Variety bills. Cine-Variety bills included a main and second feature, a Gaumont British newsreel, an organ interlude and a one-hour variety show.

As well as broadcasting regularly with the BBC, Baga composed light music and made several records. One one occasion she was invited to play before George V and Queen Mary at Balmoral.

During the Second World War she played the organ at the Tower Ballroom, Blackpool while the famous resident organist, Reginald Dixon, served in the RAF. Her Sunday afternoon concerts were hugely popular with holidaymakers and on one occasion, when a supporting organist came on to the stage, a load groan went up from the audience. After a short attempt to cope with the uproar, the player left and Baga came back to a chorus of rousing cheers.

She appeared for three years at the Oxford Corner House for J Lyons & Co, toured South Africa and Rhodesia and played several times on the SS Queen Mary. During the fifties and sixties she was known as Baga – The First Lady of the Organ and she travelled all over Britain for Hammond Organs, demonstrating and giving recitals.

With the revival of interest in the silent cinema in recent years by movie buffs, Baga found herself much in demand for silent film festivals and screenings at both the Odeon Leicester Square and the National Film Theatre. Even in her late eighties she cut a glamorous figure as she sat behind a mighty Wurlitzer organ dressed in a silver trouser suit.

Baga appeared in several television shows, including Upstairs Downstairs and All Creatures Great and Small. She also had a cameo as an organist in Richard Attenborough’s film Chaplin (1992). She died on July 15, aged 98.

Patrick Newley

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